News

Mountains Restoration Trust Preserve is Dedicated: John Paul DeJoria's Gift to California

Topanga Messenger Photo

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky thanks DeJoria at preserve dedication.

By Susan Chasen

John Paul DeJoria once envisioned building an Acropolis on his 417-acre Tuna Canyon property. But now, by selling the property to the Mountains Restoration Trust for only about 10 percent of its $13 million value, he has found a place among the pantheon of great benefactors of the Santa Monica Mountains instead.

VOL.26 NO. 10
May 16 - 29, 2002
NEWS INDEX:

DeJoria, co-founder of Paul Mitchell brand hair care products, and his wife Eloise were honored May 3 at a dedication of the DeJoria Family Tuna Canyon Preserve that took place a half mile up Tuna Canyon Road from the Pacific Coast Highway.

The still pristine Tuna property, with its beautiful Sycamore-lined stream, encompasses the lower three miles of the Tuna Canyon watershed. It was sold to the non-profit Mountains Restoration Trust for $1.4 million paid by the California State Coastal Conservancy. The rest was given as a charitable donation.

The new preserve borders both State Parks' 1,659-acre Lower Topanga Canyon purchase to the east and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy's 1,416-acre acquisition to the west for a total of 3,492 acres acquired near the coast since August.

In accepting five plaques from elected officials and the Mountains Restoration Trust, DeJoria told how he and his partners had originally planned to develop 20 homes on the Tuna Canyon property and expected a $20 million return on their investment. But he had a change of heart.

"Something just didn't feel right," he said. So he bought out his partners and eventually abandoned even his Acropolis plans. First, he said, he wanted to give the lower part to the Chumash to live as they did hundreds of years ago. But when he realized that current housing codes and regulations would prohibit that way of life today, he became interested in preserving it for future generations.

"Success unshared is total failure," said DeJoria, who voiced his own gratitude for the success America has allowed him to achieve.

DeJoria was born in South Central Los Angeles and worked his way up from a series of low-paying jobs and even homelessness to land an entry-level marketing position with Time magazine. From there he went to Redken Laboratories where he got his start in the hair-care business.

In 1979, he and hairdresser Paul Mitchell launched their professional hair care products company, which today earns approximately $600 million in annual retail sales and has been a leader in the fight against product testing on animals. DeJoria has also been a prominent advocate for product safety codes to prevent dangerous tampering.

DeJoria told how he hired members of the Crips of South Central to help clean up his Tuna Canyon property which had been used for years as a dumping ground for refrigerators, mattresses, trash cans, even old hand-cranked washing machines.

Sam Schuchat, executive officer of the Oakland-based California State Coastal Conservancy, a state land acquisitions entity similar to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, expressed profound gratitude to DeJoria for his remarkable donation.

"It's a gift precious beyond words," said Schuchat. "It's not only beautiful, it's pristine."

He congratulated Stephen Harris, president of the Mountains Restoration Trust for his persistence in seeing this complicated transaction through. And he credited Kay Austen and Roger Pugliese of the Topanga Association for a Scenic Community (TASC) for turning him on to Tuna Canyon.

"Tuna Canyon is significant because …it's natural riparian habitat pretty much from top to bottom," he said.

He recalled Pugliese's "Bronx accent" over the phone insisting: "You gotta do something about Tuna Canyon, Sam!"

Harris said DeJoria's main goal was to ensure that the property would never be developed, even if it were transferred to another entity sometime in the future. His only concession was a possible maintenance structure of no more than 3,000 square feet, said Harris.

According to Harris, the MRT's first concern now is getting the trail system open and providing a link between the adjoining parklands. The dedication took place at the entrance to the recently cleared Tuna Canyon Trail which Harris said is approximately a mile long. Eventually, the DeJoria acquisition will provide a coastal link to the Santa Monica Mountains Backbone Trail as well as an important link in the proposed Coastal Slope Trail which will begin in Lower Topanga.

Also, the MRT plans to begin removing non-native plants from the property, he said.

State Senator Sheila Kuehl thanked the DeJorias and noted how rare it is that such a gift is given.

"It's a wonderful thing that John Paul and Eloise DeJoria have done," said Kuehl. "Not unprecedented, but almost unprecedented."

Others on hand to honor DeJoria were Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky; Joe Edmiston, executive director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy; Malibu Mayor Jeff Jennings, and a representative of Congressman Brad Sherman.

Also, Charlie Cooke, a hereditary leader of the Chumash, provided a blessing with burning sage. He asked everyone to reach down and touch the ground.

"You're feeling your own being. You come from the earth and when you die, you go back to the earth," said Cooke.

With all of lower Tuna Canyon protected and the Coastal Conservancy expressing interest in protecting upper Tuna as well, the Topanga Association for a Scenic Community (TASC) has renewed hope for saving upper Tuna from the potential development of 30 or more lots. Yaroslavsky, who helped negotiate the deal for the Conservancy's acquisition of the adjoining 1,416-acres with property owner Alfred E. Mann, said there's more reason now to protect the upper Tuna watershed.

"We're looking at those properties," said Yaroslavsky. "They're on our radar screen….We'd like to have as much of the area in upper Tuna as we can in public domain. This gives a more compelling reason to preserve what's upstream."

Austen agreed.

"We still have to save the upper watershed. If we don't save it, the building will degrade the creek and degrade what has been saved….It's going to be devastating because the area is so small."

The entire upper watershed area is 170 acres, said Austen. "It's not that much acreage to protect a canyon and an entire watershed. It's very little acreage." But, unfortunately the landowners currently seeking to build have not been willing to sell.

But as for this lower Tuna purchase, said Austen: "We couldn't be more pleased. We've been saying for years that this is a pristine canyon and should be preserved for all Californians and now most of it has been."

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Zev Comments on Ahmanson 'Disaster'

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and the Los Angeles County Regional Planning and Public Works departments released comments on May 1 on the Ahmanson Ranch draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Report.

"The Ahmanson Ranch development is an unmitigated environmental disaster," said Yaroslavsky. "It is destructive of our natural terrain, impactive on our streets and highways and threatening to endangered plants and wildlife. It is the wrong project in the wrong place."

Yaroslavsky and the county agencies criticized the project's lack of traffic mitigation and repeated their call for Ventura County to order a new traffic study. They further argued that the SEIR fails to adequately analyze the project's impacts on biological resources, water supply and fire services.

Another key objection concerns possible Ventura County approval of mass grading of the Ahmanson Ranch property without any accompanying approvals for actual development. The directors of Regional Planning, James E. Hartl, and Public Works, James A. Noyes, wrote jointly: "Los Angeles County fails to comprehend the logic of authorizing the mass grading over 847 acres of land when the ultimate residential and commercial discretionary uses may not get approval." This grading may be permitted prior to the approval of Habitat Conservation Plans for the endangered San Fernando Valley Spineflower and the California Red-legged Frog.

Yaroslavsky said the practice is "highly illogical and makes a mockery of the land use entitlement process."

In Yaroslavsky's comments, he charges that 100 percent of the traffic impacts of the Ventura County project will be in Los Angeles County with 45,000 trips predicted daily. A comparable project in Los Angeles County would require $15-25 million in mitigation fees.

He also said the outdated traffic study, prepared over 10 years ago, violates the California Environmental Quality Act, which requires current project information.

Hartl and Noyes cited the fact that a project EIR was actually never prepared for the proposed Ahmanson Ranch development. The environmental reports prepared for a Ventura County general plan amendment, a development agreement and related measures, they say do not address the specific impacts of the grading project or eventual development.

The proposed Ahmanson Ranch development includes 3,050 houses and a golf course.

Mitigation proposed for protecting the California Red-legged frogs, note Hartl and Noyes, is the "preposterous" idea of creating suitable habitat within the water features of the proposed golf course.

A May 1 hearing on the SEIR attracted a standing room only crowd. After the three-hour hearing the Ventura County Environmental Report Review Committee agreed to extend the comment period deadline from May 1 to June 19.

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Relocation Challenged in Lower Topanga

By Susan Chasen

Officials with the California Department of Parks and Recreation admit that the agency's Lower Topanga relocation project has stalled and that its original deadline to clear the property by July 1 will not be met. Only 25 out of 73 households have received 90-day eviction notices, according to park officials, because comparable housing has not been found for the majority of households.

Meanwhile, that delay may well be extended. Residents have filed a formal grievance calling for a halt to relocations until a new Relocation Assistance Plan is completed.

Attorney for the residents Craig Dummit filed the grievance with State Parks on May 3 citing five major legal shortcomings in the relocation plan and calling for the plan to be redone and relocations halted in the meantime.

At a meeting with Dummit on the same day, about 50 residents were encouraged by predictions that they are likely to be able to stay at least until the end of the year.

State Parks' spokesman Roy Stearns said State Parks does not have a revised timeline for relocating the Lower Topanga community of over a hundred residents.

He said State Parks still expects to have about half the residents out by July 1. Speaking prior to submission of the residents' grievance, he said he expected relocation to proceed as comparable housing is found.

"We can't force somebody to move into someplace that's not comparable….The bottom line is finding the comparable. We need to find the comparables that work, accurate comparables to what they have now. If they get to stay a little longer, they get to stay a little longer."

Citing five supporting state and federal appellate cases, Dummit is calling for a public hearing to address the residents' grievance which contends that State Parks 1) never prepared required rules and regulations to implement relocation assistance; 2) did not set up grievance procedures or standards for contesting assistance determinations; 3) did not establish a community and resident relocation committee to advise and assist the relocation planning process; 4) did not seek a review of housing data by local housing and planning agencies; and 5) did not consider competing demand for affordable housing in the area.

According to Dummit, residents who have contested findings of the relocation company have found their grievances "summarily rejected by the same Pacific Relocation Consultants personnel who made the contested determinations in the first place."

For residents, the absence of rules and regulations has made it virtually impossible to get answers on several complicated factors unique to the Lower Topanga situation.

For example, some residents, particularly those on fixed incomes, are facing an inflated evaluation of their ability to pay rent because State Parks is combining their rents with that of their subtenants. As a result they appear to be able to pay several hundred dollars more in rent than they can truly manage without the income from their subtenants.

Similarly, state rental assistance may be used to buy a home, but if that home is a mobile home, there are still space rents to pay. They can reach $800 to $1,000 and are not included in the assistance calculations.

Regarding the failure to consider competing demand for housing, Dummit notes that not only was the relocation company supposed to deduct 4 percent of its assessed available housing to account for turnover rates, but it should also have considered the essentially double impact of adding 73 households to the housing demand while demolishing 73 homes from the market.

Twenty-two year Rodeo Grounds resident Bernt Capra said he recently made an offer of $550,000 on a Topanga home listed at $569,000, but, with several competing bids, the counter offer actually increased to $580,000.

"The real estate market cannot absorb 70 households," said Capra. "[The timeline] has to be based on what's possible in the real estate market."

According to a relocation report from 1977 when State Parks was previously planning to acquire the same property, the housing market in the surrounding community was not expected to absorb more than 10 to 12 households per year.

Capra said employees of the local relocation office in the Topanga Ranch Motel rarely have answers for the residents because they have no rules and regulations to guide them.

"Absent those rules and regulations, there are so many things we don't know about and we don't think they are doing," said Capra. "Nobody really sat down and decided how this must be done."

According to Stearns, 10 residents have already moved.

Scott Dittrich, who has lived in Lower Topanga for nearly 30 years, said that number seems high, but perhaps includes several tenants of the Topanga Ranch Motel. Otherwise, he only knew of three who have moved.

There are several others— approximately eight, including Dittrich—who have found new homes and are planning to move when the money is available. Many of these, however, are still supportive of their neighbors who are not financially able to make a move without leaving the area.

"Even though it's a lot of money," said Dittrich, many are still saying, "I can't buy anything yet—if I don't want a mobile home."

State Parks's average compensation for residents is said to be $80,000. Those with the largest homes will receive much more.

Joy Hayward, another long-time resident whose house is expected to be retained to house park employees, said the compensation may seem high, but it doesn't go far enough.

"In this area, it's not generous. When you go to look, that's when you really become depressed."

She said she was told by the local relocation representative that a possible comparable in Zuma was "just a couple miles up the road."

According to Hayward, the relocation office has been of no help.

"If we ask them a question, you cannot get a direct answer."

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In Memory of Richard

Because giving something back meant so much to liver transplant recipient Richard Kelly, last year he worked hard to become physically fit enough to participate in the American Liver Foundation 5K Walk. And with the help of his many Topanga friends he was able to raise over $1,000 for this very important cause. Sadly, although his new liver continued to function exceptionally well, Richard succumbed to a fast growing and difficult to detect lung cancer this past November.

In Richard's memory, his wife Lee Kelly has decided to enter the California Liver 5K Run/Walk for 2002 which takes place in Griffith Park on Saturday, June 1. Lee knows from experience the desperate need for funds to help those who suffer from liver disease. During Richard's hospitalization for the transplant she saw people die as they lay waiting for an organ donor. According to the American Liver Foundation 18,770 Americans are now awaiting liver donors and over 600,000 Californians have hepatitis C which is currently four times as prevalent as HIV. There is no vaccine. There is no cure. Chances are we all know somebody who has hepatitis C.

If you feel you can help Lee in this cause, please mail a check made out to the American Liver Foundation for any amount, no matter how small, to Lee Kelly at P. O. Box 698, Topanga, 90290. Or if you would like to join Lee on the Walk, the fee is $25 and she would love the company. For a walk entry form, e-mail Lee at topkelly@juno.com and she'll send you an application.

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Sassafras Property Sold

The former Sassafras Nursery property on Topanga Canyon Boulevard was recently purchased by Topanga ceramic tile maker Bob Harris. During the years when the nursery was in business, much of the operation took place on State Park property. After Pamela Ingram, who founded Sassafras, died, the property was returned to State Parks.

The 1.68-acre parcel sold to Harris includes the entry on Topanga Canyon Boulevard with its legendary concrete spillway which was constructed across Topanga Creek.

Bob Harris, the owner of Malibu Ceramic Works in Topanga, said that a major clean-up of the property is currently underway. Future plans for the site, which is one of a limited number of parcels in Topanga zoned for business use, are in the formative stages, he said.

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Topanga Radio is Growing

By Tony Morris

Topanga Radio is broadcasting worldwide to more and more listeners who are visiting the site each day according to the creators of the Topanga-based operation. There is also a plan to research the feasibility of linking the operation to a radio tower in order to reach a wider audience.

Topanga Radio's Amanda Breiter said, "We want to make the experience rewarding for subscribers and anyone who wants to get information about artists, businesses and local events."

Local Topanga artists can be heard via Topanga Radio's broadcasting service Live 365. More groups are being added to the site. "As we grow we will host shows and musical events in town. We are in the germinal stage and growing by the minute," said Breiter. Information about subscription rates, links to personal websites, the inclusion of sample videos of artists' performances, banner ads, and the sale of artists' CDs via Topanga Radio can be found on the website.

Log on to www.topangaradio.com for complete information, or call (310) 403-1336.

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